Bringing a vision alive – Strategic Planning

November 11, 2021
Arjav Chakravarti

In Svarya’s experience, “strategic plan” and “business plan” are probably amongst the terms most often put to leaders of social organizations, especially growing ones. Strategic planning, sometimes used interchangeably with business planning, is a means for an organization to articulate what it will do over a period of time, for example, the next three to five years.

A natural question that has been put to Svarya by the leaders of growing organizations is, “How do I predict what the next few years will look like, let alone build a plan based on such predictions?” However, we have seen that strategic planning, when done right, offers a powerful tool for an organization to navigate a changing environment, balance short-term responses and a long term vision, and build a team that can deliver over a long period of time.

The trap to avoid is to think of strategic plans as being static. Instead, embrace the fact that the plan will change, and faster than you think or hope.

Here are the important elements of any strategic plan.

  • What kind of organization are we – a startup, an established player, or a major mover in a sector?
  • What will be our major accomplishments over the next few years? Why would they matter?
  • How will we do the work – by ourselves, with peer organizations, with the government, or with others?
  • What resources and capabilities will we need – people, technology, funds, networks, etc.? How will we get them?

For strategic planning to be genuinely useful to you, keep the following in mind.

Be very clear about the unique value that you offer. This is often more important for the internal team than for external stakeholders. This clarity is essential during the times when you are pulled in multiple directions, a recent example being COVID-19.

What boundaries will you set? There could be sectors, interventions, partners and kinds of funders that you will not engage with. Ethical considerations are a key factor in these decisions, but not the only one. To go back to the previous point, the clearer you are about the value that you provide, the easier it becomes to know what not to do.

Who will deliver? Writing down plans is not particularly difficult. Bringing them to life is. Do you have a team and partners that can deliver even when plans get upended, or are you overly reliant on a few people to achieve your goals?

Who understands the plan? Share the plan widely within your organization, and preferably with partners as well. Too often, strategic plans are held by the senior leadership and shared only with the Board and funders. If you want people to come with you on a journey, show them how you will get to the destination.

Success does not lie in the plan. To add to the point above, the bottleneck to whatever you want to accomplish is often not a detailed plan, funding, technical capability, better marketing, etc. It’s capability and alignment. Make sure that your plan factors in the need to regularly rebuild capability and recheck alignment with all important stakeholders.

Get everybody on to the same page. It is said that 100% alignment is a lot better than a 100% strategy. Invest in alignment; you will find that strategic planning gets easier and more useful.

In an external environment that will change even more rapidly, strategic planning can be an immensely powerful exercise to set goals, test assumptions, obtain perspectives from internal and external stakeholders, and ultimately put an organization on a surer path to realizing its vision.

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